COLUMBIA -- Lawmakers gathered with Denmark Technical College supporters at the State House Wednesday morning to call for the school to remain a standalone, independent college.
“(We are) standing here today with students, alumni, faculty, staff and leadership of the local community because we believe that it is vitally important that their voices be heard, concerns felt and … their needs addressed without destroying this historical treasure called Denmark Technical College,” Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said during a press conference.
Last month, the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education issued a letter recommending that Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College take over Denmark Technical College's service area, saying the Denmark school can no longer operate as a standalone college.
Govan said Wednesday the college provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary for employment as technical, semi-professional and skilled workers in engineering and industrial technologies, business, computer technologies and public service.
“It boasts a distinguished alumni, committed faculty, enthusiastic students as evidenced by those here today,” Govan said. “Perhaps of greater importance, it is an institution located in a strategic but underserved area of our state with a local economic impact of $32 million.”
Govan noted a 2014 study of the nation’s HBCUs by the United Negro College Fund found that DTC is one of four HBCUs in the area that generates some $273 million annually for the economy of the T&D Region.
“In addition, the school generates jobs both on and off campus as well,” he continued. “According to the report, for every job created on campus, another 1.1 public and private sector jobs are created off campus because of Denmark Tech’s related spending.”
Govan said the institution has operated under a stagnant budget when it comes to state appropriations, but it needs financial participation from the local level as well.
A lack of funding through the years has led to crumbling infrastructure and outdated tools.
CNN analyst Bakari Sellers, who was once Denmark’s state representative, said Denmark Tech will continue to fight for its doors to remain open.
“I am tired of the state of South Carolina picking on poor, rural communities and we won’t take it any longer,” Sellers said. “We know that our mission is just, we know that our mission is right and we know more importantly that if we did not have Denmark Technical College, there would be many kids that do not have any opportunity whatsoever.”
“The state of South Carolina will not take away our fight and anybody who dares to close the doors at Denmark Technical College will not only have to go through me, but all the residents of Bamberg County, all the residents of Barnwell County, all the residents of Orangeburg and Allendale counties who actually know people who’ve gotten great jobs because they went to Denmark Technical College,” he added.
James W. Bowden, president of the Denmark Technical College National Alumni Association, said, “I think the most important objective of Denmark Tech at this time is to increase the student count because our finance and budget is directly tied to the number of students we have at the school.”
Bowden is a retired executive with Duke Energy. He was the first African American to achieve that level within the company and credits his education at Denmark Tech for getting him to where he is now.
“We need to work very hard, the faculty, staff, as well as the alumni and students, in recruiting qualified students to attend Denmark Technical College,” Bowden said.
“I think once we turn our numbers around, then we solve our problem,” he added.
Bowden said one of the problems the State Tech board had with the institution was a low head count and finances.
He noted that just three years ago, Denmark Tech had around 1,600 students and now it is around just 400.
“So we were trending downwards,” Bowden said. “If you were reading the trend without understanding all of the particulars associated with that number, then it would indicate to you that the school is trending downward, which could indicate that future students are looking to go elsewhere.”
The State Tech System reported the college was operating within budget despite a decrease in student enrollment.
Blanche Frazier, DTC Human Services Club president, presented representatives Govan and Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, with petitions in support of the institution.
“Since Saturday, Feb. 3, the Denmark Technical College family, community and friends have been circulating a petition that supports Denmark Tech,” Frazier began. “Today, we bring you almost 1,000 signatures with more to come.”
“We will be sending you signed postcards as well,” she continued.
She presented them with over 3,000 signed postcards.
Miss Denmark Tech Marissa Coffing said, “Denmark Tech has provided a place where I have been nurtured and supported.”
“We, the proud Panthers of Denmark Technical College, urge that the decision makers be just and allow Denmark Tech to remain open and independent,” Coffing said.